Copyright May 3, 2008
A/N: another stand-alone. Not part of either the Shadows series or All I Have to Give.
It was shaping up to be another wretched day at the Daily Planet newsroom Richard White mused as he headed out of his office looking for a cup of coffee, especially for the assistant editor – namely himself. The newsroom coffee corner was out. The cackling hens, male and female, were holding court as usual and he didn't want to run the gauntlet of questions about Lois's mood.
To describe Lois Lane as 'irritable' was an understatement. The Daily Planet had been scooped yet again by the Metropolis Star – this time a crane failure at the site of a new high-rise. Being beaten out by the Star had been happening more and more in the past month, ever since Preston Carpenter took over the helm of the rival paper. The Star had even managed to get at an exclusive interview with Superman for their pages, to Lois's outraged horror.
The Star's sudden success was also affecting the Planet's bottom-line. Orders had already come down from the bean counters to tighten the purse-strings on overtime and expense account meals.
Then to add insult to injury Clark Kent hadn't shown up for work and, as far as Richard knew, hadn't called in sick. Normally Kent's absence wouldn't be a problem, but the newsroom was short-staffed this week due to the flu and Kent, although something of a clumsy dork, was an editor's dream – a consistently high volume writer who had little need of editing. In the two months since Kent's return, Richard had come to rely on the reporter's consistency and his nose for news, although Richard would never tell Lois that.
Richard rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a headache coming on. He desperately needed a caffeine fix. He desperately needed some fresh air. The elevators seemed to be taking their own sweet time in getting to the thirtieth floor.
A man's voice. Richard looked around the elevator lobby to see who was speaking to him. A figure stepped out from around the corner where the emergency stairs were located. A familiar muscular figure wearing blue tights and a red cape.
The hero stepped closer to him.
"I wanted to make sure you got this," Superman said, handing Richard an envelope. Richard stared at the envelope for a moment. It was a common business envelope, unsealed, no return address. It was hand-addressed to him, Richard White, Daily Planet. The writing was precise, almost architectural.
"Why me?" Richard asked. "Why not Lois? I mean…"
"I have my reasons, Mister White," Superman said.
Richard pulled out the single sheet and unfolded it. It was a press release, in Daily Planet style, stating that Superman would be spending less time in Metropolis than he had before as he was needed in other places and the Metropolis Police and Fire Departments were more than capable of handling emergencies, as they had proven so ably during his earlier absence from the planet Earth.
"You should have done this before you left last time," Richard said, surprised that he had the courage to berate the most powerful man on the planet. "It would have saved us a lot of worry."
To Richard's surprise, Superman sighed. He couldn't read the hero's expression – regret, disappointment?
"In point of fact, I did," Superman said quietly. "I had a press release and a letter delivered to Miss Lane at her desk the day I left Metropolis. It wasn't until my return, when I read the back issues of the Daily Planet, that I realized my letter… that it hadn't been read."
"You're certain it was even delivered?" Richard asked. It wasn't like Lois to ignore mail, especially mail delivered by messenger.
"I'm absolutely positive," Superman told him. "Clark Kent placed it in her hand and told her it was important. I don't know what happened to the letter after that." As Richard watched, Superman stared off into the distance. He seemed troubled, a slight sad frown marring his perfectly chiseled face. He seemed almost human.
"Have you ever seen the movie 'Immortal Beloved'?"
Richard was startled by the change of subject. He hadn't realized Superman even had time to watch movies. After a moment he found his voice. "It's about Beethoven, isn't it?"
Superman nodded. "One of the main plot points involves a letter. He sent it ahead to his mistress to let her know he was on his way but was running late. It's delivered, but she never sees it and assumes she's been stood up. He assumes she has rejected him. Not quite as tragic as Romeo and Juliet, but tragic nonetheless."
"Well, I'll make sure this one doesn't get lost," Richard told the other man, again surprised by his own audacity.
In response, Superman actually smiled.
"Um, speaking of Clark Kent, you wouldn't happen to know why he didn't show up to work today, would you?" Richard asked, emboldened by Superman's apparent good humor. As far as the editor knew, this was the longest, and strangest, conversation anyone had with the hero since his return from his ill-conceived journey to Krypton.
Almost as if to answer Richard's question, Lois screamed in rage. He looked into the newsroom to see his fiancée waving around a copy of the Star. After a few seconds he could make out some of the words. "I swear to God I'll kill him!" was about the only phrase that wasn't an obscenity. The rest of the newsroom was watching her as if a wild animal had suddenly appeared in their midst and they were trying to decide between fight and flight. In contrast, Perry was standing at his office door, shaking his head.
Superman chuckled. "I think Lois just found out why Clark isn't here."
"I swear Perry, I'll kill him…" Lois was still ranting. Luckily she was now doing her raving in the relative quiet of the editor-in-chief's office rather than the floor of the newsroom. Perry White calmly waited for his star reporter to wind down. It wasn't the first time she'd had a melt-down in the newsroom and it probably wouldn't be the last. But this was one of her worst – worse than the first time Kent disappeared, six years before.
Finally, Lois stopped her pacing to face him, hands on his desk as his nephew walked in. Richard closed the door behind him and waited.
"How could you let him do it? Didn't he have a contract, a non-compete?" Lois demanded, ignoring her fiancé.
Perry took his time before answering. "Lois, we both know New Troy is an at will state. I couldn't enforce the non-compete clause even if I wanted to. Besides, I think he did you a favor, breaking the story like that. The mayor's scheduled a news conference after our deadline and we both know she's going to deny every allegation and piece of evidence your source gave you so I figure it's a good thing we didn't go to print with what you had."
"But Perry, he stole my story and gave it to that…that… rag!" Lois fumed.
"Lois, this isn't the first time you've had a story stolen from you," Perry stated. "But if you're that upset with Kent, go find him and yell at him, not me. I have a newspaper to run."
Lois didn't budge. Perry attempted to ignore her, sitting down at his desk and picking up some papers to look over.
"This discussion is over, Lois," Perry stated. "Unless you want to tell me what you have planned to replace the story about the mayor. I have about a thousand words to fill."
He felt her eyes on him and he looked up. "And accusing Kent of stealing your story is certainly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Who was it that sent you on that wild Godzilla chase to the Metropolis Water Reclamation Center, and why?"
To Perry's amusement, Lois actually snapped her mouth shut. Perry took the opportunity to give his nephew a nod of acknowledgement. Richard handed him the sheet of paper he'd been holding.
"I promised Superman it wouldn't get lost this time," Richard explained.
Perry unfolded the sheet and skimmed the contents. He wasn't surprised at what he was reading. It was only a matter of time before Superman realized the world needed him more than Metropolis alone did. He handed the sheet back to Richard. "Run it exactly as it is," Perry instructed. "It'll fill that hole in my front page very nicely."
Lois grabbed the sheet from Richard and read it. She actually went a little pale. "He's leaving Metropolis?"
"Not exactly," Richard said. "He's just not going to be spending as much time here as before."
"But what about…?" Lois began then stopped.
"What about what?" Perry asked, curious.
"Never mind," Lois said. "I just wonder why he didn't bother to issue a press release six years ago."
"According to him, he did," Richard told her. "He had Kent give it to you the day he left. Somehow you never managed to read it."
"But…" Lois began. Then she turned and stalked out of Perry's office, slamming the glass door behind her.
"That actually went better than I thought it would," Perry commented. He chuckled at Richard's confused expression but he wasn't about to explain himself.
The next few weeks were going to be very interesting. Perry just hoped the Daily Planet survived it.